Prop 14 is Bad for Smaller Parties, Bad for Democracy Overall

Michael Feinstein
Spokesperson, Green Party of California and Former Santa Monica Mayor and City Councilmember

The Green Party of California opposes Proposition 14 because it would reduce voter choice and political voice across political lines, while unfairly favoring incumbents, big money and party insiders.

By eliminating party primaries, expanding the number of voters that primary candidates have to reach and effectively front-loading the election process, Proposition 14 would put even greater emphasis on name recognition and early fundraising, increasing the corrupting influence of money and making it harder for competing candidates and movements to survive, let alone contend.

Because of pressure not to “split the primary vote” of their party’s faithful, incumbents and well-funded candidates would also be more able to “clear the field” and squeeze out competitors (like Schwarzenegger did during the recall), putting more power into the hands of party machines and insiders to, de facto, select general election candidates. As a result, Proposition 14 would stifle diversity and competition within the major parties and at the same time, limit the choices of independent voters who can already vote within the major party primaries.

Proposition 14’s backers are trying to sell this electoral scheme by promising it will deliver representatives of a particular political persuasion. Since when did the purpose of elections change from representing the people — whatever their views — to socially engineering a specific result?

Ironically, experience in Louisiana and Washington with similar “top two” primaries doesn’t back up the claim that Proposition 14 would elect more “moderates” (who’s to say what moderate is, anyway?). Rather, these systems have served as incumbent protection plans while doing little to shift political discourse. Washington’s version is subject to trial on its constitutionality in U.S. District Court this October, while Louisiana’s is hardly a model of government to emulate.

Lost amidst this controversy is that Proposition 14 is also a frontal assault on the Greens and California’s other smaller qualified parties. But in a polite democracy, we can’t be up-front about that, can we? That’s why it wasn’t surprising that a non-Green published a green-washing piece on Fox and Hounds, while in their best Orwellian Newspeak, the LA Times opined that “Prop. 14 won’t destroy third parties.”

In gushing about Proposition 14, Washington State ex-Green Party member Maryrose Asher said nothing about how it would threaten California’s smaller parties, yet used her former party affiliation to imply Greens support it. Her main point seemed to be that voters previously had to sign a party loyalty pledge before they could vote in Washington’s Democratic and Republican presidential caucuses. This is irrelevant to Proposition 14.

Asher then stated “We need to open up the opportunity to those independent and third party voters and candidates who have been shut out of the political system, especially with recent polls showing voters dissatisfied with the Republican and Democratic Party.” This is ironic because Proposition 14 effectively forces California’s growing number of independent voters to vote for only Democrats and Republicans in the general election.

The LA Times gets it even worse. California’s six qualified political parties recently held joint press conferences to state their opposition to Proposition 14, with the smaller parties emphasizing how it could eliminate them entirely. In the same way a despot tries to crush even the most marginal voice that suggests the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, the Times misrepresented the facts to dismiss this claim. Pretending to be ‘objective’, they said “California politics are enlarged and enlivened by the presence of minor parties…So when those parties, most notably the Greens, claim that some new development threatens their existence, it’s worth listening.” Without the courtesy of even contacting us, the Times concludes that Proposition 14 “would deny the Green Party publicity, and that’s their fear.”

No, that’s not our fear. In California there are only two ways that parties stay on the ballot. One is to receive at least 2% in a general election for a statewide office like Governor or Secretary of State. But under Proposition 14, minor parties won’t be on the general election ballot for statewide office, so they can’t retain party status that way. The other method is to have a certain threshold number of voter registrations. But if this were the only method today, both the Libertarians and the Peace & Freedom Party would already be off the ballot and the Greens would be threatened with the same. Once a party no longer appears in general elections, it will be harder for it to retain and recruit members.

Had Proposition 14’s authors intended to honor California’s political diversity, they would’ve reduced this registration threshold. Instead, they are going for the jugular to eliminate smaller parties entirely. By omitting this, Proposition 14 supporters like Asher and the Times are complicit in the effort.

Why should most voters care? This threat to California’s smaller parties is a canary in the coalmine about Proposition 14. A system that works for all voters would give them more, not fewer, opportunities to elect representatives who reflect their views. Reducing candidates and parties to choose from is not the way to get there. Improving our democracy should be about embracing our state’s extraordinary diversity with more choice, not less. Vote no on Proposition 14.

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